From Plumbing Codes to the Water-Energy Nexus: What Can Illinois Do?

By Abby Crisostomo

Great news yesterday in Springfield! You may have heard about Ill. House Bill 4496 (Rep. Carol Sente, D-Lincolnshire), a bill MPC and many partners have been working on to establish a timeline for the Ill. Dept. of Public Health to update the Illinois Plumbing Code to be more consistent with leading technologies and methods that more efficiently utilize natural resources and protect public health. Well, the bill passed in the House by a convincing margin of 100-14.  Now it’s on to the Senate.

I’ve been thinking a lot about plumbing codes the past couple weeks, and in particular, about water efficiency standards. Compared to the nationally used standards found in the Uniform Plumbing Code  and the International Plumbing Code, Illinois’ current code doesn’t have much in the way of green efficiency standards, but there are standards out there. Lately I’ve been looking a lot at CMAP’s Model Water Use Conservation Ordinance and the proposed (but never approved) 2011 Illinois Plumbing Code Green Supplement. In these, they base many of their recommendations on U.S. EPA’s WaterSense standards, but they also base a few of their appliance recommendations on U.S. EPA’s EnergyStar standards. So this got me thinking about the connection between water use and energy consumption at the household scale, which then happened to connect for me in a much broader way when I heard a presentation the other day on the Water-Energy Nexus Survey Summary Report put out by the Illinois Section American Water Works Association (ISAWWA) Water Efficiency Committee.

The concept of the water-energy nexus is fairly simple in theory—it takes energy to produce water (to pump, distribute, heat and treat both drinking water and wastewater) and it takes water to produce energy (from cooling power plants and nuclear reactors to extracting natural gas to energy processing)—but that connection has only more recently been given much attention, and there is not a lot of hard data out there at the local level on just how they connect. The Water-Energy Nexus Survey is a pilot project to attempt to better understand energy’s role on the water side of the nexus by collecting and analyzing information on the energy intensity and energy cost of water supply throughout Illinois. The information collected would then be used to help utilities more efficiently manage energy, water and cost, while also providing more data to help with short- and long-term planning efforts.

Roughly 50 communities throughout Illinois answered carefully narrowed questions about population; water supply source, production and consumption (billed/metered/accounted for); energy consumption and cost; operating expenses, and; treatment type. The Committee analyzed the data using metrics that include annual electricity cost, electricity cost as a percent of annual operating expenses, energy intensity of water production, energy costs for water production, and per unit cost of electricity. In the report, you will find data on these metrics compared by utility size (small, medium, large and wholesaler) and by water source (groundwater, Lake Michigan and inland surface water). The report indicates that according to the survey, small utilities tend to use more electricity per unit and pay more per unit of water than do the others, likely due to economies of scale. They also found that surface water sources tend to have the highest water production costs of the three, and energy intensity of water production is highest for groundwater communities.

Though the committee has compared data with that collected in Wisconsin and Indiana and found the Illinois data to be on par, there are still limitations to the data. For example, communities that buy water from other communities may have accounted only for water distribution, not production, in their survey answers. Getting more communities to take the survey has also been a hurdle, as the separation between the public works departments that manage the water and the finance departments that pay the electricity and gas bills has been a major barrier for some to complete the survey.

The Committee is still looking for communities to complete the survey and help improve their dataset. The ISAWWA Water Efficiency Committee’s effort is one of the only statewide initiatives in the country to attempt to collect both energy use and cost data. For communities that successfully participate in the survey process, not only will they gain insight into ways to streamline their systems to save both energy and money, they get to be part of a first-of-its-kind process that other states may look to in the future. Your community can take part by reading the report and filling out their survey online or on paper by June 1, 2012. And maybe then, Illinois can make up for being one of the last states in the country to match national plumbing code water efficiency standards by being one of the first to collect real data on the use and cost of energy in water production.

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One Response to From Plumbing Codes to the Water-Energy Nexus: What Can Illinois Do?

  1. Pingback: More than a pipe dream: The path forward for water utilities |

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